Many times when I see a new patient, they tell me they are finally trying acupuncture, having meant to for years, but they have been too afraid. I hear this repeatedly from people. Many who have piercings, tattoos, and no issues with venipuncture (blood being taken). I believe this fear stems from the unknown. Something new. Or perhaps some find it terrifying to lie on a table, alone, with needles inserted.

Thinking back, my first acupuncture experience when I was a teenager was a bit frightening. I was alone in a dark room with vibrating needles covering my abdomen. It took a few visits before I was able to finally relax and enjoy the calming of my nervous system and the time to simply be.

The busyness of our culture leaves most feeling uncomfortable with relaxing. This is a reason acupuncture and Asian medicine are so vital. It helps us develop this skill - surrendering to peace. Acupuncture is now part of my self-care routine. I love sitting or laying quietly, qi flowing through the acupuncture needles carefully placed, catching some precious time to meditate or nap. I understand the hesitance, especially for those who have difficulty sitting still or have lower pain thresholds. Even if acupuncture itself is still daunting, there are other modalities under the umbrella of Eastern medicine.  Even acupuncture can be practiced with or without needles. Eastern medicine is appropriate for the entire family, not just adults. While a child receiving acupuncture seems entirely unrealistic to many parents, there are many ways to effectively treat a child (or a hesitant, needle-fearful, adult) without needles.

Acupressure, Shonishin (Japanese non-insertive pediatric acupuncture), and herbal medicine are needleless options for treating infants, babies, toddlers, and young children. Children are not simply treated like small adults with Asian medicine. Children are considered to be quite different, with immature systems and an excess of Yang energy. Treatment is shorter and directed at bringing the Yang down and supplementing weak organs and channels. Tuning forks, acupressure, lasers, and herbal medicine are ways to treat children, teenagers and adults without needles. These treatments can also be used on animals who are needle shy as well as those who receive traditional acupuncture (although some animals love getting needled too!).

Acupressure is the stimulation of acupuncture points, usually with the thumbs, but other devices may also be used. Physical pressure is applied to points to clear blockage. Shiatsu massage applies acupressure techniques and is a powerful massage experience. I often use acupressure with children who are less comfortable with needles or to supplement acupuncture treatment. Pellets can also be used for extended acupressure treatment. Pellets are typically round seeds or gold or silver plated metal balls that have adhesive attached to the back. These are adhered to acupuncture points for prolonged treatment.

Shonishin is a specialized Japanese non-insertive pediatric acupuncture technique that uses rhythmic stroking, tapping, pressing and rubbing of the skin to harmonize a child’s energy. This type of treatment strengthens a child’s constitution and helps treat many common pediatric conditions. Typically these treatments are very brief, as a “less is more” approach is typically more helpful for infants and young children.

Herbal medicine can be incredibly powerful for all ages. Botanical medicine aims to eliminate pathology of a disease, creating balance internally. Most pharmaceutical medicines suppress symptoms of disease, but do not correct what is occurring internally. Herbs can be used from infancy until late in life. There are some contraindications and it is important to make sure the herbs given do not interact negatively with any prescribed medications. It is also essential that the herbs are appropriate for one’s constitution and the correct pattern so that further imbalance does not occur. Today there are many herbal formulas created just for children with common pediatric complaints in mind. These formulas are made easy to take, in tincture form, but are not made as an alcoholic extract. Herbs for teenagers and adult patients can be given in many forms: capsules, tinctures, granules (to be mixed with water and taken as a tea).

Tuning forks and laser therapy are other ways to treat acupuncture points without the insertion of needles into the skin. Tuning forks are surprisingly effective at producing a deep state of relaxation and when used on points that are very calming, are even more so. Tuning forks can be used on many acupuncture points, providing another option for treatment without the use of needles. Laser therapy is a type of treatment where lasers are used at acupuncture points (in lieu of needles). Some manufacturers make lasers specifically for acupuncture, with wavelengths that are for tonification of points, others for sedation of points, and others for treatment of tissue injuries. Lasers are not recommended for animals and small children, as they may be more inclined to look at the laser, potentially damaging their eyes.

My intention as an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner is to help people feel better. But I believe it is so much more difficult to help someone if they are not at ease with me or the treatment. I hope you have gained some insight into the varieties of treatments that Asian medicine offers to comfortably treat all members of your family.